St. Sarkis the Warrior and His Son, St. Mardiros
The feast day honoring St. Sarkis is movable. It occurs between January 11th and February 15th. Each year it follows the five-day Fast of Catechumens.
Life of the Saints
Little is known on the origins and early life of Sarkis. Sarkis is thought to have been an Armenian. He was a proud, brave Christian and served as a Roman army officer during the reign of Emperor Constantine (roughly 337 A.D.). Sarkis' valor, strength, and bravery earned him the rank of general.
Sarkis used his position of power for spiritual growth, going from town to town purging the land of pagan idols, teaching the Gospel, and building churches where pagan temples once stood. Sarkis had a good model in the piety of the Emperor Constantine.
When Constantine died, Christianity throughout the region came under attack from the new Roman leader, Julian the Apostate. Under his leadership, pagans set about destroying churches and persecuting Christians.
Seeing this, Sarkis prayed. Jesus appeared to him and said, "It is time for you to leave your country and your clan, as did Abraham the Patriarch, and go to a country which I will show you. There you will receive the crown of righteousness prepared for you."
Sarkis left behind his noble title and power and headed with his son, Mardiros, to Armenia, where they were welcomed by King Diran, grandson of King Drtad.
While Sarkis and Mardiros were in Armenia, the Emperor Julian, attempting to take over the known world, continued to move eastward toward Antioch in Syria. Whenever the Roman army came upon Christians, they were instantly killed. Many people fled the invading armies. King Diran urged Sarkis to escape and seek refuge among the Persians.
When Sarkis and his son arrived in Persia, King Shapur, hearing of his bravery, appointed him a commander of the Persian military. As he continued to be victorious in battle, Sarkis also continued to give the credit to God.
When Julian's troops started raiding lands near King Shapur's kingdom, Sarkis was sent to defend the territory. Outnumbered by the Greek and Roman forces, Sarkis' troops were frightened. He told them that if they believed in the Creator of heaven and earth, their hearts would never be shaken. Many of his soldiers were baptized by the priests traveling with the army, and they succeeded in fending off a Roman attack.
Some of Sarkis' soldiers, who had not been baptized, went to King Shapur and told him that Sarkis was rebelling against the Persian ruler by preaching belief in Jesus. The king called Sarkis back to the palace, where he, his son, and the newly-baptized soldiers were expected to attend a feast honoring the pagan gods.
At the temple, the king asked Sarkis to offer a sacrifice to the pagan gods. Sarkis refused, saying he would only worship the one, true God. The king began to criticize Sarkis and his faith. But Sarkis could not tolerate such talk, so he spat in the king's face and knocked down the temple idols. The king and his followers were enraged by Sarkis' actions, so they killed his son, Mardiros, before his eyes.
The king then ordered Sarkis imprisoned. In prison Sarkis was strengthened by his relationship with the Lord. King Shapur heard of this and ordered Sarkis' execution.
At his execution, Sarkis began to pray. An angel descended from heaven and told him, "Be strong. Do not fear the killers of your body; for the gate of the Kingdom of Heaven is open for you." Upon seeing the angel and understanding the power of everlasting life, many of the pagans who had gathered for the execution became Christians.
Sarkis made one last passionate plea for people to accept Jesus Christ, and then was killed.
His loyal Christian soldiers retrieved Sarkis' body and wrapped it in clean linen with the intention of burying his body honorably. When King Shapur heard of this reverence, he ordered the soldiers killed as well. Eventually, Christians found Sarkis' body and it was sent to Assyria, where it remained until the fifth century, when Mesrob Mashdots received his remains and moved them to Armenia, to the village of Ushi where Saint Sarkis Monastery of Ushi was built over his relics.
Saint Sarkis is one of the most beloved Armenian Saints to modern Armenians as he is the Armenian Patron Saint of love and youth. On his feast day young people pray to Sarkis asking him to make their prayers audible to God.
One of the most unique elements of this celebration is the specially-prepared salty cookie. The night before St. Sarkis day young people go to bed after eating the cookie (they have no right to drink water afterwards) in order to see their future spouse in the dream. By the way, most of young people who follow this tradition are girls, who expect “a prince riding the white horse ” to give them water in their dream.
On the night preceding the feast of Sarkis faithful people place a tray full of porridge before the door believing that while passing near their door at dawn Sarkis will leave his footprint on it, symbolizing the fulfilment of their dreams.
On the feast day of Sarkis, Divine Liturgy is celebrated in all churches named after him, following a special liturgy ceremony of blessing to youth is offered. On the night proceeding his feast day, faithful people place a tray full of flour before the door believing that while passing near their door at dawn, Sarkis will leave the footprint of his horse on the flour symbolizing the fulfilment of their dreams.
Celebrations are held in churchyards across Armenia and include national games and the participation of choirs, dance ensembles, and horsemen symbolizing St. Sarkis. A range of festive events take place at Lovers’ Park in Yerevan.
Many legends are telling us about St. Sarkis. One of them helps us to understand why he became a patron saint of young lovers.
Returning with a victory after a battle, a group of soldiers led by Sarkis celebrated in the Royal Palace. Tired warriors had pretty much of food and wine, so they went to sleep after dinner, and the apostate emperor who hated Christians, ordered forty young girls to kill those soldiers in their sleep. All of them complied with the order of their King, except for one. A young woman was fascinated by Sarkis, she kissed him and he woke up. Seeing that the emperor had betrayed his fellow soldiers the commander immediately saddled his horse and broke away from the city, taking his savior with him. Thus love has saved lives and St. Sarkis became the patron of all lovers.